Got PMS? Milk Marketers Launch an Audacious, Funny New Ad Campaign

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Starting this week, an eyebrow-raising ad campaign will take on one of the last taboos of America’s media landscape: menstruation.

Though anything to do with periods is still often considered a gross-out, the California Milk Processor Board is betting you’ll chuckle at a “funny, good-natured” take on premenstrual syndrome (PMS) — the cluster of symptoms that commonly precede menstruation. PMS symptoms often include emotional sensitivity, irritability, bloating, breast tenderness and abdominal pain. “Milk,” the new ads claim, “can help reduce the symptoms of PMS.”

The New York Times reports:

The campaign takes the cheeky tack of addressing itself to the men in women’s lives, on the grounds that women are not the only ones affected by premenstrual syndrome.

“Are you a man living with PMS?” some of the ads ask.

Ads often then direct viewers to visit the campaign’s website, — a humorous help page, purportedly for men trying to handle their PMS-afflicted partners.

The ad campaign was designed for the milk processors by San Francisco’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners — the advertising agency that also created the famous “Got milk?” campaign in 1993, according to the Times. This latest campaign will include traditional ad formats like billboards, posters and radio ads, but also add Internet banner ads, online videos, and social media presence.

As for the central premise of the ad campaign, there is at least some evidence — although it’s not overwhelming — that drinking milk could help ease the symptoms of PMS. On its website, the California Milk Processor Board claims the following:

A majority of women who consumed 1200 mg of calcium a day for three months reported being less irritable, weepy and depressed, and suffering from fewer backaches, and less cramping and bloating. With 300 mg of calcium per glass, milk is the perfect PMS comfort food.

The study behind that calcium-PMS claim can be found here, and it does indeed show that, among PMS-suffering women, 55% of those randomly assigned to take daily calcium supplements showed substantial improvement in PMS symptoms after three months. But that still means, of course, that 45% taking calcium did not show much improvement. What’s more, about a third of women who didn’t take calcium also got better over time, experiencing substantial improvements in symptoms without the supplements.

So taking calcium probably does help overall, yes. But it may not help everyone, and for some people it does help it may not help much. Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that the evidence behind the new advertising claims comes from studies done with calcium supplements, not actual milk.

Milk is, without a doubt, among the most calcium-rich foods and drinks in our diet. But 1,200 mg of calcium — the dose given in the PMS study — is a fair bit. To get that much daily from milk you’d need to drink about four 8-oz. (250-ml) glasses of nonfat or low-fat milk every day (even more than that, if you’re drinking full-fat milk). That’s about 400 calories’ worth in total — and may itself lead to some bloating or stomach cramps.